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The Difference Between a Yoga Mat and Pilates Mat

The difference between a yoga mat and pilates mat may not seem clear-cut, but when examining closer, there is indeed a stark difference. 

When scrutinizing your yoga mat versus your pilates mat, understanding the requirements of yoga and pilates, as well as recognizing your individual preferences, is key to choosing the best fit for you.

What is a Yoga Mat?

A yoga mat is a specifically designed mat intended to aid and assist your yoga practice by providing traction, grip, and balance. Due to its sticky grip, a yoga mat can also be used for other exercise types, such as weight training.

What is a Pilates Mat?

A pilates mat is a mat designed to support your body when performing floor-based exercise. Since the main focus of pilates is body weight resisted movement to build core strength, a pilates mat is intended to cushion the spine, knees, and wrists.

Typically, it's a good idea to buy a pilates mat if you plan on doing these exercises consistently. However, if you're switching up your workout plans, considering getting a workout mat as well

Yoga Mats vs. Pilates Mats: What’s the Difference?

It’s understandable to mistake a yoga mat for a pilates mat if you’ve never bought one previously, as the difference between yoga mats and pilates mats can be hard to discern for a newcomer or beginner. 

Since yoga requires more balance and standing postures, while pilates encompasses more sitting or kneeling, yoga mats and pilates mats do have a lot of different characteristics, like their materials, thickness, and densities. 

Thickness

The difference in thickness between yoga mats and pilates mats is that pilates mats are usually thicker in comparison to yoga mats. When performing pilates exercises, you will find yourself lying in a supine position (on your back) frequently, as well as side-lying, and in a quadruped position (on all four hands and knees). Since you may have sensitive knees and hips that need cushion in those positions, pilates mats are at least 6 mm in thickness, and can rise up to 15mm in thickness.

This differs from yoga mats, as yoga mats generally fall between 3-5mm in thickness. When doing yoga, you ideally want a balance of thickness and cushion. Too much cushion, like a 6mm pilates mat, and you may feel off balance when performing standing poses, but too thin (less than 3mm) and your yoga mat won’t have enough support.

Material

In regards to materials when looking at a yoga mat and a pilates mat, pilates mats are mostly made from synthetic materials, such as foam. Foam is the most popular material for a pilates mat, as it provides the most cushioning, but is very prone to wear and tear and offers less stability if standing or needing outside support from yoga blocks.

Other pilates mats may use PVC, which can be more resilient than a foam pilates mat, but since it is a synthetic plastic, it is considered not to be the ideal choice for those that are concerned with eco-friendliness.

Some yoga mats use foam and PVC as well, but their lack of durability and environmentally friendly materials have caused new yoga mats to spring up - yoga mats that are made from eco-friendly 100% natural rubber, such as the Yoga Strong Mat

Natural rubber yoga mats are distinguished for combining the leading traits of standard yoga mats, without compromising on eco-friendliness. The inherent characteristics of natural rubber also allow additional layers to be produced on top of the rubber to create a dual-layer mat that provides ideal support and traction. 

Density

Density is also a factor when considering the difference between a yoga mat and pilates mat. Since pilates mats are much thicker than yoga mats, they can sometimes be very bulky. While that additional density can be helpful for stability, it does make pilates mats less portable.

The density of a yoga mat can range depending on the materials, thickness, and size. High density yoga mats are beneficial because they help you grip better, making challenging or rigorous exercises easier.

As well, yoga mats are constructed to be rolled up for easy transport before or after your workout, while many pilates mats are only intended to be folded, which can be more difficult to carry to the gym, class, etc. 

Size

When looking at yoga mats and pilates mats, size is something to  take into account. There are a lot of short pilates mats (less than 68 in long) that can be difficult to use comfortably during pilates. Certain exercises in pilates require rolling over or extending your full body, and you want to ensure the pilates mat is still beneath your head and neck.

There are extra large pilates mats available as well (up to 85 inches long and 26 inches wide), but these mats can be difficult to travel with, and a challenge to find space for in your home. 


Yoga mats mosty run a standard 68-70 inches long and 24 inches wide, but if you are a tall individual, or just enjoy having more freedom of space, there are premium yoga mats available that are 72 inches long.

Feel

Similar to when you compare yoga rugs versus yoga mats, the feel of a yoga mat versus a pilates mat is one of the most noticeable differences. Since pilates mats are very thick and use a synthetic foam or plastic material, they can be very squishy, almost like a pillow. 

On the other hand, contemporary yoga mats can be comfortable in a different way. The texture of 100% natural rubber and microfiber suede is soft and smooth, but your feet and hips don’t “sink” into the mat like pilates mats, as yoga mats need more support and ground contact. 

Yoga mats also have a slightly sticky texture so that you are not prone to slipping when sweating or pushing your boundaries to increase flexibility.

Benefits Of Using a Yoga Mat

For anyone that incorporates hot yoga into their routine or engages in extra strenuous activity such as HIIT, dual layer mats give ideal support, grip, and traction for a worry-free workout. 

When working out, you want your mat to provide stability and comfort, so you do not have to worry about dirt or sweat impeding your routine. 

In addition, if you enjoy a less demanding practice with meditation and endorphin-releasing stretches, a yoga mat gives you freedom of choice and freedom to take part in your routine whenever, wherever. 


Benefits of Using a Pilates Mat

A good pilates mat helps pad your tender joints while doing pilates. The density and thickness of a pilates mat will reduce post-workout soreness in your muscles and joints by allowing your body to relax and focus on the exercise, as opposed to bracing away from the mat because of sensitivity.

Since pilates can sometimes use resistance devices, such as a weighted medicine ball or resistance band, you may be unable to use your hands and feet as a support system, pushing more weight into a particular joint. But since a pilates mat is a good shock absorber, it softens any tension in your back or hips when you perform resistance exercises.


How to Buy the Best Yoga Mat

Buying the best yoga mat is all about who you are and what you value. Each yoga mat slightly differs in thickness, material, density, and size, so understanding what your needs are both for exercise and keeping aligned with your principles.

No matter your lifestyle or preferred type of yoga, buying the best yoga mat should provide all the characteristics you are looking for in a yoga mat (eco-friendly, non-slip, durable) without compromising on quality or function.

How Thick Should My Yoga Mat Be?

The ideal thickness for your yoga mat is 5mm. When doing yoga, you ideally want a balance of thickness and cushion. 

If you go for too thick of a yoga mat (anything above 5mm), your proprioception may be off when performing standing poses because your feet will sink into the mat and there will be less connection from your foot to the ground

If you choose too thin of a yoga mat (less than 3mm) and your yoga mat won’t have enough support. Since many yoga poses require your knees to be on the mat or have your body weight supported by one hand, a flimsy mat can cause pain and discomfort depending how often you do yoga


What Materials Should My Yoga Mat Have?

Your yoga mat should have materials that give you greater stability and comfort so you can focus on your workout without worrying about sweat or slipping. 

Dual-layer mats with a 100% natural tree rubber base layer and a microfiber suede top layer are the optimal combination, as the rubber base layer is firm and eco-friendly, while the microfiber suede layer is non-slip and a comfortable texture. 

How to Buy the Right Pilates Mat

Buying the right pilates mat is mostly about where you do your pilates exercises.

If you do pilates at home, you might be exercising with less intensity and have more space, while if you go to the gym or a studio, it can be a more dynamic routine in a more confined space. 

Using this as your gauge, you can then look at thickness, material, density, size, and feel to determine how to buy the right pilates mat for you. 

What is the Best Thickness for a Pilates Mat?

The best thickness for a pilates mat is around 8-10mm, as it provides the most amount of cushion without compromising other characteristics. 

If going for a pilates mat above 10mm, it may have more cushion, but the density will most likely increase to a point that it’s difficult to carry and lay on the floor without difficulty.

If going for a pilates mat less than 8mm, the ground-based nature of most pilates exercises will be burdensome on your knees, hips, and spine, making for an uncomfortable workout. 

How Large Should My Pilates Mat Be? 

When looking at how large your pilates mat should be, your height is a good starting point. 

So if you are 5’10, that is 70 inches, which is a safe length so your neck and head on one side, and feet on the other side, are not pushing beyond the length of the mat when doing certain exercises. 

Should You Buy Yoga Mats or Pilates Mats? 

Determining whether you should buy yoga mats or pilates mats starts with which form of exercise do you engage in more often, yoga or pilates. 

However, if looking for a versatile option that can be utilized for both yoga and pilates, a sturdy, well-made yoga mat can offer the quintessential combination of quality and function, and keep you cool and comfortable during both easy and hard workouts.


References: 

Sokol, Rachel. “No, pilates mats and yoga mats are not the same thing.” Shape, 26 Sept. 2019. https://www.shape.com/fitness/gear/best-pilates-mat 

“Different Types of Yoga Mats – Select Best For Your Practicing.” Health and Fitness Magazine, 2 Dec. 2019, https://www.healthnfitnessmag.com/different-types-of-yoga-mats.